Along with many residents, we tend to cringe when we hear that the city has hired a consultant.
The decision to spend $19,200 to hire a consultant to make proposals on downtown Decatur's parking needs, however, makes sense.
We occasionally fear the day when the city hires a consultant to evaluate what to do with all the consultant reports it never implemented. Often, such studies seem to be an expensive way for local governments to pretend they are doing something when some introspection or a look at the budget make clear no action is likely.
Downtown parking, however, is an issue the City Council cannot avoid. Various administrations have spent lots of money — and yes, generated lots of consultants' reports — transforming the downtown area from a wasteland into a developing oasis of pedestrian-friendly commerce. The job is not done, but progress has been remarkable. Public investments in Princess Theatre, Carnegie Visual Arts Center, several parks and most recently the Alabama Center for the Arts have attracted private investment.
For the project to work, adequate parking is essential. Restaurants like soon-to-open Mellow Mushroom need to be within a reasonable distance of parking spaces to succeed. A second phase of the Alabama Center for the Arts will both remove available parking and add students who need a place to park.
Waiting until too late could undermine the city's investment in downtown Decatur. The City Council's proactive approach to a problem it knows is coming is a sign of good leadership.
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